Since the medium is indeed a great part of the message, Three Testaments — bringing together the Torah, the Christian Scriptures, and the Koran in one volume — is already transformative, simply by challenging all of us to look each other in the face. And to see in each face the Face of God. Besides that, Brian Brown’s proposal for seeing the Zoroastrian tradition as having set the context for new Revelations in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — may open us up to fuller spiritual and religious explorations.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director of The Shalom Center, author of Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus & Wilderness Across Millennia, with Phyllis Berman (Jewish Lights Publ.)

Three Testaments suggests new paradigms that could considerably enrich interfaith discussions for each of these three faiths: "a new paradigm for Jews about the origin of monotheism in world religion, a new paradigm for Christians about the saviour of the world, and a new paradigm for Muslims about the people of the book."
Mark Toulouse, Principal and Professor of the History of Christianity Emmanuel College, Victoria University, University of Toronto

"What an interesting read! I am delighted to see the use of the calligraphy by Zakariya in balance with the evocative Kligfield collection of engravings in this splendid book."
Dr. Serene Jones, President, Union Theological Seminary, New York

 “The use of inclusive scripture is entirely appropriate for the twenty first century, both scholarly and evocative. To leave women out the scripture in our time is to distort the message entirely.
”Sister Joan Chittister, author of Called to Question, columnist in National Catholic Reporter

Having demonstrated the many ways in which Jewish, Christian and Islamic sacred texts manifest such influences and parallels in a seminal previous work, Brian Arthur Brown and his associates here turn to a deeper investigation of the common as well as the distinctive features of the monotheistic world faiths present in the Torah, the Gospel and the Quran, including some possible influence in each by Zoroastrianism. Well aware that the evidence is not conclusive in many cases, he courageously and suggestively charts out the dots that can become connected as further research dictates, thereby setting forth a possible map of the partially hidden root system that feeds the major branches of the flourishing world religions. Max L. Stackhouse, author of God and Globalization, Professor Emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary

Foreword
Amir Hussain
Editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.

            The book that you hold in your hands is revolutionary. It presents together the texts of the Torah, Gospels, and Qur’an, inviting the reader to examine the interdependence of the Scriptures that are central to Jews, Christians and Muslims. That shared presentation in and of itself gives Three Testaments its name and makes it extraordinary. What makes it revolutionary are the connections that Brian Arthur Brown and the other contributors to this volume make between these three great traditions.

            In speaking about itself, as it often does, the Qur’an says that those whose knowledge is sound will say that: “We have faith that what is in it is all from God. But only those who have wisdom understand”.[1] This book provides both the wisdom and the understanding.

To show the deep connections in our religious history, my mentor, Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith began one of his books, Towards a World Theology, with the story of Leo Tolstoy, his Confession from 1879, published in 1884. How many readers are familiar with Tolstoy and the story of his “conversion” from a worldly life to a life of ascetic service? The story that converted him was the story of Barlaam (the hermit) and Josaphat (the Indian prince). In the story, the Indian prince, Josaphat, is converted from a life of worldly power to the search for moral and spiritual truths by Barlaam, a Sinai desert monk. Tolstoy learned the story from the Russian Orthodox Church. However, it was not a Russian story, as the Russian Church got it from the Byzantine Church. But it was not a Byzantine story either, as it came to the Byzantine Church from the Muslims. But the story did not originate with Muslims, as Muslims in Central Asia learned it from Manichees. And in the end, finally, it was not a Manichean story, as the Manichees got it from Buddhists. The tale of Barlaam and Josaphat is in fact a story of the Buddha. Bodhisattva becomes “Bodasaf” in Manichee, and “Josaphat” in later tellings of the tale.

However, Wilfred’s genius was not in simply pointing to the history of this story, but to how it moved forward in time. Those who remember Tolstoy know that he was an influence on a young Indian lawyer, Mahatma Gandhi, who founded Tolstoy Farm in South Africa in 1910. And those that remember Gandhi know that the story does not end with him. Gandhi was an influence on a young African American minister, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. The story shows that we are connected to each other, both forwards and backwards in time.

We see that connection when we study our Scriptures. Our best scholarly evidence tells us that the Torah was first written down during the Babylonian Exile and in the Return to Jerusalem, as sponsored by Cyrus the Great and his successors. We know that their Zoroastrian tradition, present in Babylon during the Exile, influenced the Bible. In this book, Brian Brown credibly re-establishes the traditional understanding that Jewish monotheism predates that of Zoroaster, despite popular and esoteric predilections placing him thousands of years earlier. Moses, or one of the more contemporary Hebrew prophets, may even have been a source of inspiration for Zoroaster, whose dates we now believe to be early seventh century BCE. At a later time, Zoroastrians may have helped the Jews in their midst to recognize God’s own self as the only “Redeemer” of Israel.

Brian Brown then shows how possible exposure to Zoroastrianism may have been a revelation to Jesus about his messianic destiny, not only to restore the Davidic kingdom, according to his spiritual understanding of it, but also to be the “Redeemer” or Saviour of the whole world – a distinctly Zoroastrian concept. Finally, Brown presents the Qur’an’s self-understanding as confirming both the Jewish monotheistic heritage and the messiahship of Jesus. He shows the Qur’an to confirm Scriptures in addition to those of the Hebrew and Christian communities (notably Zoroastrian), by employing a traditional Islamic perspective that may be a welcome affirmation for Muslims and helpfully insightful for Jews and Christians in particular.

Ellen Frankel and Marc Brettler present their portrayals of the resolute dedication of Jews to their covenant relationship with God and with each other, as well as certain incongruities in the Torah’s articulation of the monotheistic heritage since at least the time of Moses. Henry Carrigan and David Bruce describe the devotional aspect of the stories of Jesus in Christian tradition and the intricacies associated with the texts of the Christian Scriptures. Laleh Bakhtiar and Nevin Reda bring the cutting edges of both classical and progressive Islamic scholarship to bear on challenges associated with presenting the Qur’an in the context of twenty-first century investigations.

Far from simply ignoring the profound differences among and within religious traditions, Three Testaments is committed to engaging the very differences that we have, to gain a deeper sense of each other’s commitments. This, for me, is the goal of interfaith dialogue as advanced by this book – not that we seek to convert each other, but that we help each other to find what is meaningful in our own traditions.

Christian and Jewish readers will gain better understandings of their own intertwined traditions, and also learn a great deal about Muslims and Islam. Muslim readers will benefit from understanding the Qur’an in its historical and cultural contexts – asking when and why and how the verses were revealed to Muhammad. They can also learn about the truth of metaphor in the discussion of the work of Northrop Frye. Just as an increasing number of Jews and Christians see the truth of the Bible to be in the way it provides meaning for their lives and puts them in touch with the Divine, so Muslims can experience their “truth” in new ways. What once might have been understood as literally true is now seen as metaphorically true, at the deepest level of meaning. The Qur’an seems to give some allowance for such understandings in the first part of the verse quoted earlier: “It is God who has revealed the Book to you. In it are clear revelations which are the foundation of the Book, while others are metaphorical.”[2]

Important as they are in every North American community, with Jewish, Muslim and “other” populations now equal to small nations in size, interfaith relations here are affected by the numerical dominance of Christians. With a population of 460 million people in North America, there are approximately six million Jews, six million Muslims, six million “other” and perhaps twelve million currently “unaffiliated” in a sea of 430 million Christians, active or nominal.  Several contributors to this book are members, adherents or affiliates of the United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant Church in Canada. Just before Canada’s centennial in 1967, the University of Toronto Press published The Vertical Mosaic, a defining analysis of 100 years of evolving national identity, in which John Porter described the United Church as being “as Canadian as the maple leaf and the beaver.”[3] Since then the maple leaf has survived the threat of acid rain, the beaver has adapted to climate change, and the United Church has adjusted to the changing demographics of immigration and the testing of organized religion by a “secular spiritualism” in much of Canadian society. However, Jews and Muslims are not alone in recognizing that the United Church has played a leading role in fashioning the egalitarian society which makes Canada a much needed model for the world in the twenty-first century. How much is this needed in the era of Little Mosque on the Prairie, the CBC sit-com hit televised in every English speaking country in the world except one? In this book, eminent American religious scholars join the initiative of Canadian academics and spiritual leaders in support of this model as exemplified by the contributors associated with the United Church.

The unity of God that Jews express in repeating the words of the shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One”[4] is mirrored in the first line of the shahadah or faith statement for Muslims, “There is no god except God.”[5] And it is instructive to remember that it is the Hebrew shema that Jesus quotes as the Great Commandment.[6]

Three Testaments also opens up one final intriguing insight. While the Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam may all contain revelations received earlier in some form by Zoroaster, he himself may be seen as not merely the axis in the Axial Age, but as also the reformer of ancient Vedic religion. In my view, recent opinion regarding the late dates for Zoroaster’s life and influence, as documented here, are important, since his reforms affected the old Hinduism and the newer Buddhism as profoundly as his spiritual insights influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This realization is a “game-changer” for Interfaith Studies. Not only are the traditions of oriental and occidental religions required to tolerate and learn to appreciate each other in the world culture that is emerging. They are also to embrace each other as long lost relatives, distant cousins many times removed. This provides a new basis for scholarly discourse that may occupy many of us in the years to come.

 



[1] Qur’an 3:7

[2] Ibid. 3:7 See also the Pickthall scholarly interpretation where this term is rendered “allegorical.”

[3] John Porter, The Vertical Mosaic,  page 519

[4] Deuteronomy 6:4

[5] The first pillar of Islam.

[6] Mark 12:29